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Nigeria @ 58: The Heroes of Independence

Compiled by Timothy Edaki

“…the labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain.”

And we continue to sing this anthem lustily, our voices hitting a crescendo whenever we reach this point but most of us have little or perhaps no idea about these heroes we sing about. We do not know about them and our school curriculum most times do not provide adept details or insights about the men and women who laid down their lives, put away their own individual desire for a bigger cause they believed in- the self-rule and independence of our own nation.

58 years is a long time and to put it mildly, a time for anyone, any nation to have made substantial progress, to have left the miry clay of failure into prosperity. However, this article does not seek to explore that realm, it rather is aimed at stating and giving prominence to the men and women who sought and fought to free Nigeria from the shackles of British leadership and make Nigeria a free country.

Chief Obafemi Awolowo:

Born in 1909 in the small village of Ikenne, Ogun state, AWO as he is fondly called was first a teacher, and then progressed to a clerk. He was in fact many things in his lifetime: a newspaper reporter, a politician and a nationalist in his spare time. He however went into active politics as a member of the Lagos Youth Movement which later became the Nigeria Youth Movement. Assecretary of the association Awolowo was against the ethnic divisions that characterized many of the nationalist’s movements.

In 1944 during his time in London while studying as a lawyer, Awolowo founded the Egbe Omo Oduduwa to promote the culture of the Yoruba people. As part of his desire and drive to see an independent Nigeria, Awolowo wrote the Influential Path to Nigerian Freedom where he elucidated his points on how and independent Nigeria would foster and protect the interest of each region and ethnicity.

After his return to Ibadan in 1947, Awolowo formed the Action Group[ between 1950-1951. The Party controlled the Western Region and called for the immediate and swift abolition of British rule. Also, as much as Awolowo wanted an independent Nigeria, he also wanted a unified one and he was always extending an arm of friendship to the other political parties in the other region.

Pages would not suffice to talk about this political colossus who desired the best for our nation. The Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun state is named after him. He is the author of several works including: AWO: The Autobiography of Chief Obafemi Awolowo (1960) and Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution (1966).

Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe

Popularly referred to as Zik by his many admirers, Azikiwe was born in Zungeru, Nigeria in 1904 and was the first president of the ondependent Nigeria. After his education both in Nigeria and outside the country, Awolowo went to Ghana, then called Gold Coast and established a nationalist newspaper. He was also a mentor to Kwame Nkrumah who later became the first president of Ghana.

On his return to Nigeria, Azikiwe romanced journalism and politics, displaying a high level of dexterity and professionalism with the Nigerian Youth Movement and as founder of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons

Azikiwe in his lifetime displayed an undying love for truth and justice. He wasChancellor of the University of Nigeria at Nsukka from 1961 to 1966. Some of his writings include Renascent Africa (1937) and an autobiography, My Odyssey (1970).

Sir Ahmadu Bello

Born in 1910, Sir Ahmadu Bello was the first and only premier of the Northern Nigeria region. He was also the Sardauna of Sokoto. As one of the key leaders of the Northern People’s Congress; a political party, he was everywhere in the early politics of Nigeria in the First Republic.

However, unlike the other nationalists who sought for a united Nigeria after independence from Britain, Sir Ahmadu Bello was concerned primarily about safeguarding the interests of the Northern people but interestingly; he never sought leadership of Nigeria. He was satisfied with being the leader of the Northern People’s Congress which was the largest party then.

As one of the ways to celebrate this national icon the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria is named after him. He wrote his autobiography titled My Life (1962).

Sir Herbert Macaulay

He is referred to as the father of Nigerian nationalism. This was as a result of his strong desire to see an independent Nigeria and his vociferous and outspoken stance on the colonialists who he considered as the enemies militating against the Nigeria he envisaged.

Born in 1846 in London, Macaulay had his education in both Nigeria and Lagos. He however returned to Lagos in 1893 as a surveyor.

He gained popularity for his political ideologies with us writings in the Lagos Daily News which he would later purchase.  Following the introduction of the 1922 Nigerian constitution which provided for limited franchise elections in Lagos and Calabar, Macaulay founded the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) on June 24, 1923 to contest the three electoral seats available in Lagos. The NNDP was the first Nigerian political party and it sought self-government for Lagos, the introduction of institutions of higher education in Nigeria, compulsory primary school education and lot more.

Macaulay became more popular for his unstoppable and fiery criticism of the British rule and this led to his party winning all the seats in the 1923, 1928 and 1933 elections. He later established the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) with Nnamdi Azikiwe and became its president.

His picture appears on the now defunct one naira note and a popular street in Lagos is named after him.

Tafawa Balewa

A man of humble origins, Tafawa Balewa was born in Bauchi and like most of his Northern contemporaries; he had his early education at a Koranic school in Bauchi before moving to the Barewa College where he obtained a teaching certificate.

Following his return to Bauchi, he became a teacher at the Bauchi Middle school. In 1944, he was selected with a number of other teachers for training at the University of London‘s Institute of Education. On his return, he became an Inspector of Schools for the colonial administration.

It was precisely about this time that his romance with politics began, in 1948, he established the Northern People’s Congress as a cultural organization but by 1951 with Ahmadu Bello coming into view, it became a political party and following the 1951 elections, the new part won seats in the Northern House of Assembly and in the Lagos House of Representatives.

In 1952, Balewa became Minister of Works, in 1954, Minister of Transport and the Senior Minister and leader of the NPC in the House of Representatives. In 1957 he became the first prime minister of Nigeria, a position he held until his death.

Pages would not suffice to talk about this great man who although at first was not keen on the idea of the unification of Nigeria but on further knowledge and his visit to America was quick to change his perspective and agree that we can all make a great country together.

The famous race course square in Lagos was renamed “Tafawa Balewa Square” in his memory. His portraitalso appears on the N5 note. The Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi is named in his honor.


Ernest Ikoli

Born sometime in 1893 in Nembe, a place in present day Bayelsa, Ernest Ikoli was a revolutionary journalist and the first editor of the Daily Times Newspaper.

An alumnus of the prestigious King’s College; after his education, he became a tutor at the school, a position he left to pursue a career in journalism which he is today greatly remembered for.

Ikoli had a short stint with the defunct Lagos Weekly Record. He was also the first editor of the Daily Times. He was also the publisher of the now obsolete African Messenger. In the 1930s, he co-founded the Nigeria Youth Movement and was at one time the president of the party.

Ernest Ikoli was also pivotal to the actualization of Nigeria’s independence and was also a founding father of the Action Group.


Chief Anthony Enahoro

He is best remembered for his stance against the British administration and his pro-democracy outlook. Born in 1923 in present day Uromi, Edo state. He had a long and interesting career in politics, journalism, civil service and democracy.

Upon graduation from King’s College, Enahoro became the editor of Azikiwe’s Eastern based newspaper, Southern Defender and he became the youngest editor at age 21. He later became the editor of Zik’s Comet, Kano, 1945–49, associate editor of West African Pilot, Lagos, and editor-in-chief of Morning Star from 1950 to 1953.

Regarded by many scholars, academics and Nigerians as” The Father of the Nigerian state”, Enahoro moved the motion for the nation’s independence in 1953, a motion which was not granted until 1960 and was met with opposition from members of the Northern parliament who felt the nation was not ready for independence or self-rule.

The list is endless and could go on and on, including Samuel Akintola, J.D Vaughan, Hajiya Gambo Sawaba, Margaret Ekpo amongst others.

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